Tuesday, October 25, 2016

5 Films: Akira Kurosawa

Rashomon movie posterBy Kenny Howell

Bringing back a series I did a few years ago, I like at directors and list their five best films. Today, we will look at Akira Kurosawa's five best films.

5. High and Low (1963) - An executive gets stuck in the middle of a kidnapping when his chaffeur’s son is taken.

4. The Hidden Fortress (1958) - Two peasants unwittingly take a princess and general across enemy lines in this Kurosawa classic.

3. Ikiru (1952) - An unhappy man find out he is dying of cancer and sets out to find happiness before he dies. He finds that what he sought was in front of him the whole time.

2. Seven Samurai (1954) - Probably the inspiration for more action movies than you can think of Kurosawa’s masterpiece follows seven samurai who protect a village from bandits. In addition to protection, the samurai teach the townspeople how to defend themselves. Basically the Japanese version of a western, the samurai film had several great entries, but no more stellar than this. It was remade in the United States as a western called The Magnificent Seven.

1. Rashomon (1951) - A woman is raped and her husband murdered, but who did it? The answer is a lot more complicated than most who done its. Kurosawa broke the mold with the same event told from several different points of view, and the viewer is left to decide what actually happened. The three different stories come from a suspect, a psychic who is channeling the murder victim and an eye witness. Problem is, all of the stories are different. Revolutionary way to tell a story and a film that still holds up today.

Netflix TV Review: Lady Dynamite, Season 1 (2016)

Lady Dynamite poster Netflix
Lady Dynamite, Season 1 (2016) - Created by Pam Brady, Mitchell Hurwitz; Starring Maria Bamford, Fred Melamed, Mary Kay Place, Ana Gasteyer, Ed Begley Jr., Dean Cain, Brandon Routh, Patton Oswalt, John Mulaney, Adam Pally.

By Kenny Howell

Comedy is probably the most subjective of genres. It's hard to say why it is more so than any others, but for whatever reason, different things just make different people laugh.

That is very apparent in Lady Dynamite. Maria Bamford is an extremely acquired taste because she is just straight weird. No matter how clever this series is (it is very much so), her bizarre antics are going to turn some people off.

It does not turn me off. I very much like it. It gets so absurd at points you can't help but laugh at how stupid it is. However, as dumb/funny as it is, Lady Dynamite is extremely witty, especially the first half of the season when Bamford deals with her battle with bipolar disorder, and her own personal challenges including relationships and the fear of her own perceived racism.

For the first half of the season, Lady Dynamite might be the most clever comedy on TV, and probably got the most genuine laughs out of me. It plays with the form, stepping outside and calling out its absurdness, or even the absurdness of some societal ideals. But that peters away a bit in the last half of the season, as the show becomes a bit less focused and loses its bite just a tad. It's still quality, and definitely in the distinct voice of Bamford, it just doesn't hit the high it set so well in the beginning.

Rating: ***1/2

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Movie Review: Cafe Society (2016)

Cafe Society movie poster
Cafe Society (2016) - Written and Directed by Woody Allen; Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Anna Camp, Parker Posey, Paul Schneider.

By Kenny Howell

Woody Allen goes back to 1930s Hollywood in this elegant little love story starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart.

Eisenberg (Now You See Me) plays Bobby, a young man from the Bronx that feels the draw of Hollywood. His uncle Phil, played by Steve Carell (The Big Short), is a powerful agent out there, representing just about every big name you can think of from the golden age of Hollywood.

After weeks of trying to meet with the crazy busy Phil, Bobby finally pins him down and gets a job at his agency. There he meets Phil's secretary Vonnie, played beautifully by Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria). She shows him around Los Angeles, and the two strike up a relationship, despite the fact that she is seeing someone else. She keeps it as a friendship initially, but he makes it quite clear that he wants more. When her boyfriend ends it, Vonnie turns to Bobby, but her past relationship is still very much there, hanging like a cloud over what is blossoming between Bobby and Vonnie.

You can tell when Allen (Blue Jasmine) really latches onto material because some films just really pop more than others. His best movies have an energy about them, and some do it through the setting. You can tell Allen is enamored with this time period in Los Angeles because it just sparkles on screen. That includes Stewart, whose wardrobe should earn an Oscar nomination for the film.

Also worthy is Stewart herself, who adds another dimension to her terrific body of work. I never have seen her as elegant, but she definitely is in this film. You can really see why the two men are battling over her. She has always been an insightful actress, and usually tends toward those roles, but here she is unbelievably charming. Eisenberg, being the Allen stand in here, plays off that well and lets Stewart steal the screen.

Cafe Society does fall back on some of Allen's bad habits, like how the characters have to over explain everything, from their emotions, to setting up the scene, but there is enough there to let that slide. It isn't one of Allen's better works, but it is certainly a worthy entry to his oeuvre.

Rating: ***

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters movie poster
Ghostbusters (2016) - Directed by Paul Feig; Written by Feig, Katie Dippold; Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Zach Woods, Ed Begley Jr., Neil Casey, Steve Higgins, Nate Corddry, Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Ernie Hudson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Matt Walsh.

By Kenny Howell

I hate it that I don't really like the Ghostbusters remake because I don't want to give credence to all those idiots online that attacked this just because it was remade with women.

But I don't really care for it. To be fair, I never really cared for the original Ghostbusters films. They were horror comedies that weren't really that scary or funny. They were perfectly OK, well marketed for sure (that's a great logo), but they haven't aged very well. The new one has the same problems. It's not scary and only occasionally funny despite the incredible amount of talent involved.

Another problem is the approach to the sequel. It is as if the first films never existed and this new world has never heard of the Ghostbusters. The original Ghostbusters, outside of the late Harold Ramis, pop up in cameos, and it just seems weird having them there as someone else. I don't understand why they made the choice to just ignore it, and make them some kind of rehash of the originals who had maybe fallen on hard times.

Kristen Wiig (The Martian) plays Erin Gilbert, a science professor who gets outed as a paranormal specialist when a book she wrote with a friend years ago surfaces at her school. She seeks out that friend, Abby Yates played by Melissa McCarthy (Spy), a fellow scientist who still believes that ghosts exist and is close to creating equipment that can prove that existence. Abby has a bizarre partner in Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), and the trio set out to find a ghost. After confronting a ghost in the subway, the metro operator that found it, played by Leslie Jones, forcibly joins the team. They also hire a big dumb, handsome secretary played by Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers: Age of Ultron).

There is of course a human that has an evil plan to unleash all the ghosts on New York City, which the Ghostbusters must battle in the end. The remake, despite its moments, just seems a bit unnecessary, and not because it didn't need to be remade with women. They are all super talented and have done great work, this one just isn't a part of it.

Rating: **

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hulu TV Review: Casual, Season 2 (2016)

Casual Season 2 poster
Casual, Season 2 (2016) - Created by Zander Lehman; Starring Michaela Watkins, Tara Barr, Tommy Dewey, Katie Aselton, Fred Melamed.

By Kenny Howell

Led by a terrific Michaela Watkins, Casual returns for a second season of the troubled Meyers and Cole clan.

Watkins (In a World) returns as therapist Valerie Meyers, a recently divorced woman who is still trying to get her life back in order after the split while also taking care of her slightly troubled teenager in Laura, and very troubled brother tech world giant brother in Alex.

At the beginning of Season 2, Alex has taken the heartbreak from the end of season 1 and channeled that into living clean, exercising, eating extremely healthy and squashing those feelings way deep down inside. That troubles Valerie because, well, it just seems weird. She is trying to reconnect with old friends, and make some new ones, which does lead to some possible new love interests.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Movie Review: The Accountant (2016)

The Accountant movie poster
The Accountant (2016) - Directed by Gavin O'Connor; Written by Bill Dubuque; Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jeffrey Tambor, John Lithgow, Jean Smart.

By Kenny Howell

As much fun as it is to see Ben Affleck shoot people in the face, The Accountant just doesn't add up.

I hate myself for writing that, but I am sure I am not the first. But it is true. The Accountant is an interesting idea with a couple of good elements, but just never really comes together, and peters out majorly by the end.

Affleck (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) plays Christian Wolff, an autistic man that is an accountant that cleans up the books of some very scary people around the world. He also is an assassin, trained by his military father to protect himself because of the condition that he doesn't truly understand.